Friday, 13 September 2013

Why I will be using a pen name

One of the things that the publisher, the editor, and I have had to deliberate over has to do with the name that I will be publishing under. Although the publisher acknowledged that marketing non-fiction can be tricky using a pseudonym, his first instinct was that this particular book should be able to circumvent those problems. The editor, on the other hand, was of the opinion that I had to use my real name – even if it meant resorting to the use of my maiden name instead. In his words: ‘I feel that the author should write the book in her own name. Writing under a pseudonym will make the book difficult to market and does not align with the author’s core message of dealing with divorce in an up-front way.’

We went back and forth over this and I was almost convinced to just go ahead and use my maiden name after all. I would have loved to, actually, but it didn’t feel quite ‘right.’ In the end, Bill (the editor) said it was ultimately my call.

A divorce memoirist whose work I have admired since my own divorce agreed with Bill. As she put it: ‘I never would have considered publishing my book under a pseudonym.  It was extremely important to be fully truthful, and I think readers would have had a difficult time trusting me if I hid behind a fake name.’

We had this conversation several months after I thought I’d settled the name issue for good. Her words made me really question myself, though, which was a good thing, as this is a decision I’ll have to carry with me forever.  In addition to feeling like using a pen name would prevent the book from ‘ringing true,’ she also brought up the point that the use of a pen name seemed like a means of protecting my ex-husband from the consequences of the choices he made – a means of preserving the status quo (which is that, men tend to be unfaithful to their wives and there’s nothing women can do about it, and that’s that).

Interestingly, like Bill, she also advised that I steer away from saying certain things – that I find a way to allude to infidelity, for instance, without directly making any accusations in this regard.  In Bill’s case, he gave the advice that any book editor would: that I couldn’t use the words of identifiable people in the book without getting their written permission.

Well, what’s a girl to do, then?

I resolved these issues in my head on a recent long-haul flight which provided plenty of time to just sit in one spot and think.

I do not at all feel that using a pen name takes away from the authenticity of what I have to say. I have never felt so. This blog actually started out (and was maintained for quite a long time) without an association with any name at all. I’m convinced that the fact that I was anonymous (and started out thinking that I always would be) actually freed me to delve into some things that I might not have, had I started out using my name. And since I have neither sought nor obtained permission from my children’s father to use his words, not using my real name just makes sense to me. No one’s privacy can be protected 100%, but the pen name gives a certain measure of protection.

I have hung on to using snippets of certain conversations, and certain words of others, including my ex. I’ll just have to take that risk. What would the Running into The Other Woman post be without the ‘classic’ sentence: ‘On behalf of my family, I just want to apologize to her for all the pain that she has suffered as a result of being falsely accused’??? That sentence is probably etched in my memory forever. Unlike it the past, I think of it today without bitterness, but I don’t think I will ever come to remember it without complete amazement. In my mind, that is one sentence that holds much of that particular story together. Without that sentence, I wouldn’t have fallen apart in public. I would have succeeded in holding onto to my usual, cool, calm demeanor throughout that fateful meeting. Without that sentence, I don’t think the reader would have gotten to see just how deep the hurt was, just how far below the belt the blow was.

Well, who cares? So what if I was deeply hurt once? Or twice, or more?

I think women might care. I am not suggesting that this sort of thing happens in every African woman’s relationship, but whether it does or not, I think it’ll make us all sit up and be more proactive about creating the sort of relationships we want, to the extent that it is within our power. 

I think men might care. Because communication is often such a huge problem in relationships, men often have no inkling just what kind of pain that one poor decision can inflict on their partner. I hope that many of the stories will give them a glimpse into just what it is like. A glimpse into just how much havoc a wrong decision made in a split second can cause.

I think the Church might care. These stories are mainly about the demise of a Christian marriage. They represent just one of many Christian marriages hanging by a thread or already destroyed. I hope that in laying it all out, that the Church will be forced to look at the remains of one marriage (mine), and glean something from the autopsy in order to help other struggling marriages. I hope that the Church will gain a sense of how to help out a bit better, of what to do in general, by reading my story. 

Some dear friends of mine (a married couple) also made me pause and think about my motives for moving forward with this book. Not that they were discouraging me from doing so at all; they were just playing devil’s advocate – just to be sure that I was clear about things in my own mind. Having a blog is one thing, they said. But having a book is a whole other ball game. Why are you writing this book?

I’m writing this book because I was meant to write it. Call it denial, but my mind is simply unable to accept the idea that my experiences in marriage and divorce have all been for nothing. There has got to be a reason for the path that I have walked. 

I’m writing this book because when I was struggling in a difficult marriage, and then, navigating the waters of divorce, I desperately wanted to read about the experience of others to help me with mine, and I couldn’t find any books by anyone like me.

I’m writing this book because I have finally found a form of ‘labor’ that I would gladly give myself to even if I weren’t paid for it.

I’m writing this book because the chance to do so essentially fell in my lap. It came to me more than I had to hunt for it. And now that I think about it, the best things in my life have always been those things that weren’t a big struggle to obtain or to make happen.

I’m writing this book because the reactions to the blog made me realize there’s a need for it – not just for the divorced, but for the married and never married. I have written frankly about quite a number of things that I wish someone had been able to tell me in plain English before I got married. I have written about things I wish I had known when I was in a marriage. I have also focused on the realities of divorce – the ‘good,’ the ‘bad,’ and the ‘ugly.’ Few books can actually be for everybody, but I have written a book that I know will be for some people. And that’s enough.

I’m writing this book because I have to keep on keeping on. To keep moving. Although I wouldn’t say I’ve experienced it myself, necessarily, I think divorce can have a pretty stagnating effect. I’m struck by one of the last things that Efuru said in Flora Nwapa’s book by the same title: I have ended where I began   I can see how easily that could turn out to be the case for any divorced person, but I reject this as my personal testimony. There’s a lot to do out there, and so I’m ‘doing.’ I can’t end up where I began. It just not possible – I’ve come too far. I'm writing this book because I sense that the book's ending will open up a new chapter in my own life. 

There’s one more reason why I will be using a pseudonym. It is, in fact, the first reason that came to mind when I decided not to use my real name: My day job involves a staggering amount of a very different kind of writing that is supposed to have little or nothing to do with how I ‘feel.’ When the publisher expressed interest in turning the blog into a book, my first thought centered on the need to keep some distance between the book and the job that I earn a living from. I’m not sure why that was an immediate thought; it’s hard to explain. I suppose it boils down to the fact that, for each type of writing, I want to be judged as objectively as possible (since writers are always judged, no matter what). I don’t want the judgment pronounced over the first type of writing I do, to cloud the reader’s judgment of the second type (if that makes sense).

And so, I will be using a pen name.

p.s. – Excuse the disjointed arguments and any typos. Very sleepy right now. Night …


  1. I agree with you about using the pen name, not for your ex's sake (of course not!), but for others involved (kids, work) - bravo and all grace to you for taking this step to write a book. There are not many books or even messages or counsel out there for pre and post info about this covenant called marriage or sad in our times - divorce. Very few are open or candid about what is going on; no-one tells you about -
    1. Keeping your feminity - let him be the man in the marriage; allow him take the challenge and pay the bills!
    2. WATCH & pray - Watch; don't be naive, before he is a man of God, he is a man. Keep him on his toes; keep his interest and get involved in his interests.
    3. Take time to BE - protect your 'me' time to grow (in your relationship with God, FIRST), each other (the marriage) and self- development. Hard with kids and life's pressures, but nothing is impossible with God.
    There is an opening in the 'market' for this material - go girl! :-)
    Thankyou for allowing God to use your challenges to challenge others, the best is just beginning!

    1. This was such an inspiring comment to wake up to - thanks so much! You've really laid everything out nicely. Let me just say: Gbam, Gbam, and GBAM! One thing I don't think I said is that I chose the pen name really carefully - or maybe I should say that the pen name holds a lot of meaning for me, so it's already precious to me in a way. Have a blessed day.

  2. I will quote Bible small sha but these were the thoughts that came to mind as I read this post
    ...who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Cor 1:4
    It's only salvation that even God intended for the whole mankind and even that not everyone was saved. So if even one person is helped by your work, I know your work is done. Secondly, when God was to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, God agreed for negotiation on behalf of just 10 people in 2 cities. So I'm sure we your ardent blog followers are more than 10 and so are anticipating your book. Lol.
    African, divorced, Christian and solidly grounded with the right perspectives, I'm not sure I have seen. One of the things I appreciate is that you are thoughtfully enjoying the process and are not focused on the end. Thank you for sharing with us.
    IMHO, using your name may even detract from the story, God's grace.

    1. My dear, quote the Bible all you need to. 2 Cor 1:4 is one of my favorite scriptures. I was at night vigil last night and the speaker referred to the same thing: 10 people being enough for God - so thank you for sharing. I used to obsess over the end quite a bit in the beginning (that's a tough place to be in); I wonder when i stopped doing so. I think I just realized it was much easier to just focus on maintaining a 'one day at a time' perspective. I think you have a good point about the name issue. Thanks and have a nice weekend.

  3. My sister after reading this piece, I was moved to react. It struck me that your writings are not just any ordinary labour but a labour of 'love' - a gift from God through you to thousands of women and not only African women in need of love and healing from wounds received in bad marriages, divorces and a host of oppressive, destructive and abusive experiences inflicted on them by men and society. You have voiced out what some of us have not been bold enough to come out and say but by doing this you have reached out and touched us in a way I have not personally encountered in any Church, fellowship or establishment. Whether or not you use your real name for me is not an issue. The fact is you have lived through this experience. It is real and you have chosen to share this with us. Thank you for being a blessing, an inspiration and for forcing us to confront our own identities and choices that we make and to learn how to take responsibility for our actions without always blaming the other party. I pray that this book will be the turning point for you along an amazing journey which will even sustain you financially without you having to depend on other sources of income. You have helped me to step out of the shadows a little so I am no longer anonymous! Blessings always.

    1. My sister and friend ... Thank you for breathing much-needed life into the blog! I have been so negligent due to crazy work demands and I'm not sure when I'll be able to come up for air. Hopefully soon. But your comment has compelled me to at least reply, so thanks. I appreciate what you've said about the rmj blog very much. Thank you for writing so eloquently about what it has meant to you. Your comment has really inspired me. Welcome out of the anonymous closet, JeRose! ( -: Enjoy the fresh air ...

  4. 'Nena Ndioma'; love the sound of it & I'm so proud of you, rmj! Can't wait for the book to be published. Absolutely love your posts and share in your views. God bless you for daring to share your story. I know a lot of people will be blessed and liberated. Isang Awah

    1. Dear, dear friend: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Love ya loads.